Of the Thrash Metal bands that made their appearance in the early 80s, the one perhaps less deserving of the total lack of support provided by the music industry were the Danish quintet Artillery.
Following a few well-documented break-ups and an even greater number of line-up changes, the Danes managed to find in Michael Basthol Dahl a frontman worthy of the band’s legacy and with his assistance record last year’s sensational “Legions”.
It was for the purpose of promoting that very album that Artillery found themselves supporting Onslaught during their European trek and it was on the evening that they were performing in London that I managed to arrange a short but very enjoyable chat with their young and very friendly frontman. If you are as interested to find out what motivates a thirty two year old band to continue writing top quality Thrash Metal, then read on!
By Yiannis (John) Stefanis.
- Hi, Michael. It is very nice to be able to talk to a member of Artillery, something that I never thought I would be able to do. I am sure I am not the only one who believes that the band you’re fronting is one of these criminally underrated units that were never really given the chance to shine back in the day.
- “Legions” is an amazing album so I wish to start this interview by personally thanking you for your contribution. I am absolutely convinced that the album would have not sounded the same had you not been personally involved.
Michael: Thank you very, very much. You make me feel very humble right now (laughs).
- So, how does it feel being a member of the Artillery family and being part of the creative process of “Legions” – an album you’re currently on tour in support of?
Michael: It feels so great! It’s really a dream come true; this is something that I always wanted to do. To be given the opportunity to join a band which is so well established as Artillery are and to be able to be on such equal terms within the band…it is amazing. The trust I was given in the studio to present my ideas and how they were welcomed by the rest of the band…it was great and it gave me a lot of belief in myself.
Prior to that I was thinking to myself: “I hope that I can do it”, but I was not too sure. I mean, there’s a lot of history to this band and so it was more than possible that someone may not have particularly liked my approach to things as I do not sound the same like Flemming (note: Rönsdorf) or Søren (note: Nico Adamsen) did as my voice is different than theirs.
Whenever we play live I try to replicate their parts as much as possible but I knew that if I had to contribute something on a record then I needed to make sure that it would be something sounding personal, put my own sound and twist to things. I believe that this is exactly what we achieved in “Legions”. It all went down so quickly, like a blur of creativity, so I remember sitting one night in the studio thinking to myself: “I hope this will end up sounding good in the end as, right now, I cannot even begin to grasp it in my head”. So yes, I am very pleased with the end result – very proud indeed.
- Driving to London for tonight’s show gave me the opportunity to listen to the album one more time on my way here and what I realised this time around is that, though Thrash is a genre that has long been associated with the ‘mighty riff’, Artillery’s music somewhat differs in the sense that vocal melodies play an equally important role in the proceedings.
The way you sing, the way your voice complements the riffs and melodies is pretty special. It feels very natural having you presenting these songs to us. It really feels like you’ve been playing with the rest of the band for ages, so well done there.
Michael: Thank you, it means a lot.
- I have been looking at the touring obligations you currently have in support of Onslaught and I saw that there are plenty of dates in the States later in the year.
Michael: Yes, the whole lot! There will be a good two months of touring for us in the US, involving October, November & December. We are heading out to New York and then I believe we go straight up north to Canada only to return to the States again, following which we will visit South America.
This tour will finish with us performing in Nicaragua at the Siembra Y Lucha festival where we are going to performing along with many special old school bands. I am very much looking forward to this because, whenever you go out on tour it takes like a week or so to get things going and make yourself comfortable with it all.
Right now, we feel really comfortable touring but the tour is almost over so we’re like “damn it” – we really wanted it to go on, you know? I really cannot wait to do that whole thing again. Touring is great because you’re doing something new every day, meeting new people and instantly having to make things work with the help of the crew. There are a lot of nice people involved in the business so it’s great.
- I assume that the question that I’m about to ask would be more appropriate for the old members of the band, but here it goes nevertheless. The way that the music industry operates has changed dramatically over that last few years and we all know that, if a band is to make any money at all these days it will be through touring.
I understand you are personally be excited about the prospect of being on the road for months one end but what about the ‘old guard’? How do they feel about playing in sweaty venues at this moment in their lives? Are they motivated to go out and show people what real Thrash is all about?
Michael: Yes they are! It is quite inspiring at times to be around them because their focus on things is exactly the same as mine. Of course, we know that the conditions are going to be physically tough but you need to remember that this is something that they wanted to do for years now.
Back in the time when “By Inheritance” (note: 1990) came out they were not given the opportunity to fulfil their potential so doing this thing right now will help them fulfil that creative cycle in their career, so to speak.
Now we can fulfil this need and thus help move things forward. We will work very hard towards achieving that goal this year and then next year we will hopefully record a new album and see what happens. Yes, things will definitely come full circle when we do this tour in the fall.
- Once a song is completed it acquires a very specific identity – one that you’re allowed to manipulate and present differently when you’re on stage.
So far in this tour did you find any of the songs that you recorded for “Legions” to have developed into totally different entities or is your aim to present your audiences with faithful representations of your material?
Michael: What we’re aiming for is to be somewhere in between. One of the things I realised was that, as a singer, I always aim towards finding ways of making the audience participate in the live experience but I personally like bands that play their songs live with the same intensity and purpose as when these songs were first recorded.
I also appreciate that whenever you decide to bring something new in the live performance, people will be on their toes and not just stand there watching you play. It’s funny because the more you play the songs live you begin to enjoy them in a totally different way.
In the beginning you’re enjoying the fact that you’re performing them and then your goal becomes to improve the way the sound as much as you possibly can. Now that we have been playing these songs for quite a while we find ourselves being more relaxed and really enjoying our performances. I believe that the ideal place to be is somewhere in between.
- Through that process which you so clearly described, do you find that you are all of a sudden provided with more room to express yourself in a way that feels more natural to you?
Do you think that this process has helped people understand more who you are and where you’re coming from musically speaking?
Michael: Yes, I think so. I have been trying to achieve that a lot already through the recording of “Legions”, to put myself clearly into the picture, and I think on the next album…there have been a lot of left-over ideas I had for “Legions” which I simply put down in our ‘idea pool’ thinking to myself: “Let’s see what will happen with these in the next year or so”. It’s been very important that “Legions” has had a good reception and, yes, I will try to put more of myself onto our next album (laughs).
- What does your label Metal Blade say about how you guys go about things? Have they been as supportive as you would have hoped them to be? I have to admit that having an Artillery album featuring Metal Blade’s logo in the back fills me with joy.
Can we hope that the next Artillery album will also be the product of collaboration between the members of the band and said label?
Michael: Yes, that is exactly what we are going to do. The contract we signed with them was not just for one album, so… (laughs)…I don’t know if I’m allowed to say that – I think I can (laughs).
- Mate, I’m afraid that it’s all on record now!!!
Michael: Oh no (laughs)!
- Well, that is amazing news indeed. Now that the band is ‘back on track’ so to speak we need to ensure hat a healthy momentum is established. With the recent resurgence of Thrash Metal in mind, is Artillery a band whose musical future is dependant on a short or a long term plan?
Michael: Hmm, I don’t know. I mean, I don’t think that we are planning things too far ahead as a band but, on a personal level, I do think of things with a long term plan in mind.
Actually I think that Michael (note: Stützer / guitars) does the same thing too. It really depends on what you’re comfortable with. Right now, we don’t do things thinking as to whether the Thrash Metal scene is popular or not – we just do what we do.
I think that we will definitely carry on playing for as long as it is a fun thing to do and as long as we continue making music that we believe is relevant and good.
- I don’t mean to put any unnecessary pressure on you but I hope you understand that you are a very integral part in the Artillery ‘machine’ right now.
You are the youngest member in the band and, being the frontman means that people will naturally focus on you and see you as the main representative of the band.
It is your energy and passion that fans will subscribe to and will be motivated by. So, no pressure there (!!), but the more you give as an individual the more Artillery will achieve collectively as a band.
Michael: Thanks (laughs).
- What is it that you eventually want to achieve as a member of Artillery? If, let’s say, in 3-4 years you guys decide to call it a day, what is it that you will want to look back as having fulfilled with these guys?
Michael: One of the main things for me is to be able to have toured some more, to go everywhere that there is possible for us to go, and also try to do new stuff as well. It will be nice to be able to make new videos in special locations and manage to utilise all the weird and unusual ideas that we may have at the time.
Basically, what I want is for us be able to once again write some good material, the kind that lives on long after you’re gone. That is the main plan. Obviously, we also want to push things as far as we possibly can. If we manage to continue playing for many years to come then that would be great. As long as we feel good about ourselves doing it then we will.
- Do you think that the style of Metal that Artillery play provides you with all the right opportunities to evolve as an artist or do you need to operate within certain boundaries so as to ensure that the end result will sound like Artillery?
Michael: Well, I don’t feel at all confined. If I am to use any of my ideas I do have to make sure that it fits within the band’s frame but that doesn’t mean that I feel confined by it. It is very easy for me to put forth an idea that I have as I know that it will be well respected.
Of course we do operate in a democratic environment within the band so if there is an idea that will really not fit then I might just store it away and use it somewhere else in the future. The fact that I feel free enough to do that is cool (laughs).
- Michael, I realise that you are in the middle of things so I will wrap things up here. It’s been an absolute pleasure talking to you and I really wish you guys the best, especially when the end product is as impressive as “Legions”.
I am also looking forward to seeing the band’s performance tonight as I’m sure that you will kick some ass royally. Do what comes to you naturally and I am sure that we will all enjoy a beautiful evening.
Michael: Thank you very, very much.
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